Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels burn rubber and inspire Bruce Springsteen!

Whatever gets you through the night. That’s right John. Whatever gets you through. Gets you through.

The days. The days you don’t own. You’re a prisoner of the days. A prisoner uniformed, numbered and defined by your family history and name.

A prisoner marked out by race, class, Zip Code, bank balance and Grade Point Average. And, if you ain’t no fortunate son one day you might wake up to find you’ve been drafted to fight in a war halfway around the world against folks you never heard of.

Everyone thinks they know everything about you from the way you look, the way you walk and of course the way you talk. Because your folks old country was Ireland or Italy or Poland you’re, ‘one of them’ and bound to act just like the way expected of one of them.

And you? Who do you think you are? Looking down the checklist on offer you only know you have to tick the box for, ‘None of the above’.

Sometimes, most of the time, it’s hard to breathe. It feels like you are being suffocated and thrashing about in a steel mesh net that’s tightening, tightening.

The only time you feel you are really breathing, not gasping for breath, is when you follow Grand River Avenue all the way down to the shore.

Down to Walled Lake. Down to the Casino.

To dance, dance, dance, dance until finally you’re breathing clear. Until, miraculously, you feel electrically alive and wholly free. Free.

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Now you’ve had your radio tuned permanently to Lee Alan who hosted his show from right here in The Casino. And, you know that music legends have played here. Louis Armstrong himself, Sinatra and Chuck Berry as soon as he got out of the slammer.

Detroit is the home of Motown so here at The Casino Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and The Miracles all strut their stuff. The British invasion bands come out to the shore too to see if they can cut it in front of an audience that really knows. Really knows.

And, one thing above all the thousand or so regulars know. Really know. There’s only one band that will hit the stage at a hundred miles an hour and just be warming up. One band from right here in Detroit that will play and play until they drop.

Until they and the dancers circling the floor under the Mirrorball in a haze of smoke and sweat communally become transformed beings. That band, the unchallengeable monarchs of The Casino, are Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels.

Ah Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, won’t you come along with me!

Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels – now that’s burning rubber!

They had been Billy Lee and the Riverias. After producer/songwriter Bob Crewe saw them at Walled Lake they became Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and in a New York studio in 1965 they achieved an almost impossible feat – to recreate the frenzied glory of their live show and capture it on vinyl.

You can imagine Mitch prowling the floor, doing the splits and knee dropping as he tears into the inspired medley of Little Richard’s, ‘Jenny, Jenny’ and, ‘C.C Rider’ the blues standard which probably came to them through Chuck Willis.

Jim McCarty on the lead guitar, Jo Kubert on rhythm guitar, Earl Elliott on bass and Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek on drums whip up a tornado of sound that laid waste the idea that the spirit of Rock n Roll was dead or alive only in bands from across the Atlantic Sea.

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More than a million copies were sold as Jenny became a top 10 pop hit and, especially pleasing to the band, Number 1 on the R&B chart.

When you find the secret to capturing the intensity of live performance on record you just gotta do it again! Listen here to Mitch and the boys fire up and lift off like a Saturn 5 space rocket as they make an immortal anthem out of, ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’ written by Bill Medley of Righteous Brothers fame (track down their version too).

What’s it all about? Your guess wins the prize! What it’s about is the exhilaration of Johnny Bee’s drums sound and the adrenaline rush of Jimmy McCarty’s guitar solo and the ecstatic abandon of Mitch’s vocal.

It’s about being 100% alive and throwing your head back and laughing at the sheer wonder of it all.

Growing up in Detroit Mitch and The Wheels developed a deep love and understanding of the music of the black community all around them – Rhythm and Blues.

So, whatever historians or sociologists might think it was entirely natural for them to turn to the work of a great luminary like Little Richard and a, ‘You gotta be in the know to know’ artist like Shorty Long and in a blast furnace of energy meld, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and, ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On’ into an outpouring of ferocious joy.

Find 11 on your dial and keep it there throughout!

Taking on songs like these is high risk strategy. If you don’t pull it off you dishonour music you love and look ridiculous. But, once Johnny Bee kicks things off with an awesome drum tattoo and Mitch pours his heart and soul into the vocal you know that you’re never gonna tire of this record.

Additional musical brilliance here courtesy of Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Barry Goldberg on the organ. They were rewarded with a top 5 hit.

Someone else plugged into the primal source, Bruce Springsteen, recognised this and characteristically doffed his cap with his own tribute in the, ‘Detroit Medley’

Bruce a head and heart scholar of the music knew that for mainline energy and commitment to the Dionysiac essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels have rarely, if ever, been matched let alone outdone.

Free – All Right Now, My Brother Jake : Gloriously Blazing Too Far, Too High, Too Soon!

Ah youth, youth. When the blood sang in our veins. When there were worlds to be discovered, explored and thrillingly conquered. When we were almost sure, almost sure, we were immortal.

Yet, in the dark watches of the night – a sudden shiver.

Youth will, must, in time wither and decay. Beauty, so breathtakingly potent now, will, must, lose its bloom. What if the impregnable certainties of our beliefs should tumble and fall as medieval castles did to unimagined assailants?

The sand in the hourglass flows and flows running down your unknown span of days. Enjoy your youth while you may for it is a currency too easily spent never to be replenished.

These are the days, so soon to melt away, that you must savour. These are the days that will always echo in your soul. These are the days that you must always hold in your heart while it still beats.

Cut to April 1968. To a pub, The Nags Head in Battersea London, where a band of teenagers, named, ‘Free’ are about to make their debut. For all the hard drinking punters knew that day they were just another of the hundreds of the by the numbers blues/rock bands that had emerged in the wake of the pioneering work of John Mayall and his assorted Bluesbreakers including star alumni Eric Clapton and Peter Green.

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As it turned out Free before they played their final gig at Newcastle’s Mayfair in October 1972 would justly earn a reputation as one of the great live bands of their era and record seven albums featuring superb singing and collegiate musicianship associated with a series of songs that would echo on in the decades after their days in the sun were long shadowed by time and personal tragedy.

Cut to the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. Free, riding high (helicoptering in!) with their anthemic signature song, ‘All Right Now’ topping charts all over the globe take the stage and deliver a performance to an audience of half a million souls which demonstrated beyond any doubt that two years of intense touring has turned them into an awesomely accomplished musical force no sensible competitor would choose to follow.

The brilliance of Free’s live shows are well captured on the essential, ‘Free Live’ CD with their set from Sunderland showing them at their incendiary best. Listen to their own ‘Mr Big’ and their definitive cover of Albert King’s, The Hunter’ and you will encounter magnificent musical control with every member of the band contributing with distinctive skill to create a glorious unified sound.

The sound of a band in its pomp playing with confidence, power and finesse. The sound of a band overflowing with love for their music. No wonder they accumulated a huge loyal fan base that filled and shook concert halls whenever they played.

Free’s singer and a natural born front man Paul Rodgers was 18 when Free formed. He hailed from Middlesbrough in England’s gritty North East. His father warned him that working class boys must learn a trade or face decades of insecure low paid drudgery.

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Paul took this advice to heart though not in a way his father could ever have forecast! Paul’s apprenticeship was spent not in a shipyard but criss crossing the motorways and A roads of Britain with Free learning to form his own singing style from the lessons he had learned from youthful hours listening to Muddy Waters, Otis Redding and Levi Stubbs.

Like those masters Paul became a heroic singer able to command the stage and the recording studio using the resource of his smokily sensual voice as each song demanded; now playful, now raging, now tender, now regretful. A band with Paul Rodgers strutting his stuff out front was never going to be overlooked!

Free were blessed that their bass player, Andy Fraser, just 15 when he joined, was a genuine prodigy who had a seemingly inborn sophisticated sense of rhythm which gave the band a lovely organic flowing sound.

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Andy as well as being a technically accomplished bass player was also an acute listener who was able to pick up on, channel, challenge and redouble the melodic imagination and songful soul of Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff to create thrilling song arrangements.

With Paul Rodgers he formed a songwriting partnership which would give Free a treasury of songs to draw on. Before his death in 2015 he would go on to write fine songs for leading artists with my own favourite being the exquisite, ‘Every Kinda People’ recorded most notably by Robert Palmer.

Behind the drum kit, escaped from rural Wales, was Simon Kirke, 18 when he joined. Simon anchored Free’s rampaging sound with unfussy authority. When they went into full blitzkrieg mode he was a heavy wrecking ball drummer but he could also rein things back and provide a lulling pulse on ballads and reveries.

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His calm and sensitivity was an important element of the overall Free sound and his security playing at slow tempos marked him out from so many of his over busy contemporaries.

Enter, Londoner Paul Kossoff, just 17 when he joined, a genuinely tragic figure, dead at 25 a victim of a drug habit he seemed incapable of resisting, whose extraordinary guitar playing whether in unison passages or in heart rending solos marked him out as one of those rare musicians who has,
‘The Touch’.

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The Touch is hard to define but easy to recognise and impossible to learn. It’s nothing to do with technical accomplishment. It’s everything to do with a sound that is immediately distinctive, a sound that bears the unmistakeable hallmark of the human soul with all the blessings, graces, weaknesses and wounds that produced it.

Peter Green had the touch. Jazz pianists Bill Evans and Jimmy Yancey, in their very different ways, had the touch. B. B. King had The Touch.

Players with The Touch stop you in your tracks shaking you out of imaginative torpor. They make you listen. They make you feel. They take you places you didn’t know existed.

Paul Kossoff lived to play the guitar, lived most fully, was most himself, when he played guitar. Playing guitar he transformed his Les Paul or Stratocaster into a wizard’s wand conjuring unrepeatable, inexplicable magic out of the air.

You can hear The Touch in nearly everything he played in his short life. You can hear it in his supernatural interplay with Andy Fraser on Mr Big. You can hear it in the anguished vibrato and nerve shredding trills of his sound in, ‘The Hunter’.

You can hear it in the measured magnificence of his playing throughout, ‘All Right Now’ which I must have heard a thousand times or more on student jukeboxes. Yet, I can still stand to hear Kossoff, Rodgers, Fraser and Kirke another thousand times or more because, ‘All Right Now’ is a real song they play with steady heads and full hearts.

In 1971 Rodgers and Fraser wrote one of the favourite songs of my youth – the dizzying, whirling carousel beauty that is, ‘My Brother Jake’. You can feel their joy in playing together, in getting away with doing just what they always wanted to do and getting paid for it! This is one of my first go to songs if I ever need reminding that it’s a wonderful thing to be alive.

Free were undone by the inevitable personality and character driven disputes that arise between charismatic, forceful young men like Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser and by the tragic decline of Paul Kossoff despite the best efforts of his bandmates to save him from himself.

We will never know what wonders they might have created had their choices and circumstances been different. Yet it must be better to celebrate the treasures they have left us rather than to mourn what might have been.

As I was thinking about writing this post a song I could not name for several weeks kept edging its way into my consciousness. It was only when I sat down to write this tribute that the overworked minions of my memory vouchsafed that the song was, ‘Get Where I Belong’ which I will leave you with as an elegy for a band who blazed a shining comet’s trail and left us with music for the ages.

Perhaps, with the spendthrift wrecklessness of youth they did go too far, too high, too soon, with little thought of how they would come down but we should always be grateful for the view of the moon and the stars they illuminated for us.

Notes:

Free issued 6 albums of original material and a live recording in their brief 1968 to 1973 career. They will all repay your time.

The classics are, ‘Fire and Water’ and, ‘Free Live’

There is a handy 19 track compilation, ‘The Free Story’ and, for enthusiasts (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!) there is a marvellous 5 CD set, ‘Songs of Yesterday’

Bo Diddley : Who Do You Love, Mona .. Rhythm Rules!

When you get down to it, when you really get down to it – rhythm rules.

Before you can utter a sound you can feel and respond to the rhythm of your mothers beating heart. And it’s your first and dearest tune; the lullaby a part of you will always live by. Rhythm rules.

You are then born suddenly into a world of seeming blooming and buzzing confusion where you must learn again to tune in to the essential rhythms of life. Heat and cold. Hunger and thirst. Night and day. Summer and Winter. Spring and Autumn. Rhythm rules.

Meanwhile the planets and the stars rotate in their ancient dance while the tides of the sea rise and fall, rise and fall, obedient to the imperial moon as they beat, beat, beat, rhythmically on the shores of the waiting land. Rhythm rules.

Rhythm rules. It always has and it always will. You don’t need to be able to read and write. You don’t need to speak a particular language. All you need is a beating heart.

And to demonstrate the utter primacy of the power of Rhythm there is only one man to turn to: he was born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi in the dying days of 1928. As a boy he became Ellas McDaniel but the world will always know him as The Originator, the one, the only Bo Diddley.

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In March 1955, as I rocked safely in my mother’s womb, Bo Diddley took his Guitar and went into Universal Studios in Chicago in the company of Otis Spann (piano), Jerome Green (maracas), Frank Kirkland (drums) and Lester Davenport (harmonica) and laid down two tracks, ‘Bo Diddley’ and ‘I’m A Man’ that would be issued as a 45 in April on the Chess Records subsidiary label Checker with the serial number 814. I will brook no argument that this is the greatest debut single of all time!

Listen here to Bo announcing himself to the world with the supreme confidence of a man who knows, absolutely knows, that he has found and can incarnate the rhythm which will sweep the globe and revolutionise popular music.

A primordial, irresistible Rhythm which will lift listeners out of the everyday world reconnecting them with their essential physicality and, as the beat pounds relentlessly on, a door to a buried collective unconscious is opened and bodies drenched in sweat discover a reinvigorated sense of their animal and numinous nature.

Now we can call up the musicologists (there’s usually a brace or two of them in a dusty corridor of your local university!) and learn that the, ‘Bo Diddley rhythm’ melds elements from Latin America, West Africa and the Southern States of America.

We can talk artfully about the influences of latin clave and body slapping, ‘hambone’ performers. We might refer to the beat as three stroke/rest/two stroke or say, ‘Shave and a hair cut (pause) two bits’ or bomp-ba-domp–ba-domp, ba-domp-domp.

Now, that’s all very well but what really counts is that unless you are being forcibly restrained by experts once you hear that Bo Diddley Beat you won’t have the inclination to think about any descriptive terms for the beat that you must get in sync with, must get down to. The beat that you feel in the soles of your feet, in your loins, in the pit of your stomach, in the very chambers of your heart.

A beat that is and was a musical earthquake and which continues to produce aftershocks in the work of those who listened hard to what Bo was laying down.

People like Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Pete Townshend, Eric Burdon, Jeff Beck, Bob Seeger, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and Bruce Springsteen all fell under Bo’s spell and wrote and recorded songs with Bo’s Rhythm flowing through every bar and every line. Look out in a few days time for a further post illustrating Bo’s astounding influence on popular music.

Now, though it’s time to return to the original source. Here’s Bo from April 1957 with the spooky, hypnotic mantra, ‘Mona’.

Well you sure can hear the field holler here. And, you can feel, have to feel, the sweet agony of the longing and the lust. Some say Bo wrote this in homage to an exotic dancer who piled her trade at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit. If true, she must have been some dancer!

Mona is music stripped down to the barest elements needed to carry its message; like a rope bridge strung over a chasm that somehow stays in place when it seems it must fall into the depths below.

Listen to the eerie, I will not be denied vocal. Listen to the febrile, I just don’t know how much of this I can stand guitar, and tell me you are not shaken and stirred. Tell me that your heart is not going bumpety-bump! Mona, Oh Mona!

Bo was by no means a prisoner of his own Beat. He was a very fine songwriter with storytelling flair able to write lines that invoked the well known tropes of folk tales with wit and wisdom.

Musically he knew all about what Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry were doing in Chicago as well as the what was coming out of New Orleans from Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. His youthful training as a violinist had given him a feeling for melody and harmony that he brought into play when needed.

In 1956 he had written a song, in a rockabilly style shuffle rhythm which was immediately recognised as a classic – ‘Who Do You Love?’

I remember laughing out loud with pleasure the first time I heard the opening lines:

‘I walk forty-seven miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a neck tie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside, made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of a human skull,
Now come on baby let’s take a little walk, and tell me, ‘Who do you love?’

Indeed! Why wouldn’t Arlene go for a walk with Bo- given the entrancing, hucksterish, nature of his lyrical come-on and the scintillating excitement of the lead guitar played here by Jody Williams.

You’re sure to have a fine, fine, time with a man who just rode a lion to town using a rattlesnake whip. A man with a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind who’s just 22 but don’t mind dying. Sure, he will probably be gone in a puff of smoke tomorrow morning. But, today’s the only day that counts Arlene – Carpe Diem!

Bo must have had an ear cocked to the rippling rhythms emerging from the interplay of musicians in dance bands from New Orleans and Caribbean. You can hear this loud and clear in a lovely, slyly humour filled record he cut in December 1958 – ‘Crackin’ Up’

Bo’s marvellous reading of the phrase, ‘What’s buggin’ you?’ on its own would have me happily laying down my cash to buy this one! Add to that Bo’s pretty, shimmering, glitterball guitar and the virtually DooWop backing vocals and you have a perfect pop confection that hits the spot every time.

In 1962 the Eminence grise of Chess Records, Willie Dixon, presented Bo with a guaranteed hit with the charming cracker-barrel philosophy treatise, ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover’. Once Bo and the band lock in you are going nowhere till the song ends! Like Bo says … Come on in closer… Turn it up!

Bo Diddley was a radical innovator who respected the tradition he was heir to. He was a primitive artist and an avant garde artist. He was thoroughly modern and post modern before his time.

Imagine him here strapping on his square bodied guitar and sending everybody reeling with the so good you’re going to have to keep this one on repeat for an hour or so, ‘Mumblin’ Guitar’.

In any universe that I can imagine Bo Diddley will always be out in front of the pack. Bo Diddley is and was as cool as cool can be.

Notes:

‘The Story of Bo Diddley’ double CD on Chess/Universal should be a corner stone of any collection of the best of 20th Century music!

As stated above, my next post, due very soon will showcase the depth of Bo’s influence on the generations of musicians who followed him. Don’t you dare miss it!

Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin & Elvis all revered Joe South : Games People Play

‘A need to hear and tell stories is essential to human beings, second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter,’ (Reynolds Price, Novelist of the American South)

‘In the South people talk in rhyme and clap on the offbeat’ (Robbie Robertson)

Growing up in the American South in the post World War Two era a boy with attentive ears and a curious mind would have had access to a rich, loamy diet of inspirational songs and stories. Tall tales, fables and folk tales at the kitchen table and the store. Gossip and rumour outside church and school.

The heavy air all around you was suffused with Hymns and Murder ballads, work songs, cheating songs, songs of exile and songs longing for home. Tuning the radio dial in Georgia you could hear scarifying Black Gospel, parlour songs, train songs, bluegrass breakdowns, bottleneck blues, honky tonk drinking songs, waltzes, polkas and whatever was top of the pop charts.

If you were musically inclined you could start practicing with the guitar your daddy gave at 11 and while still a teenager, if you had the will and the talent, you might find yourself co- writing a hit song with a rock n roll legend and go on to be a master session guitarist, Grammy winning songwriter and singer with a string of classic songs to your name and work with everyone from Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin and Simon and Garfunkel. You might even have Elvis himself record and perform one of your songs.

You might grow up to be Joe South.

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And, if you were Joe South you would write and record in 1969, ‘Games People Play’ one of the most enduringly satisfying and effective songs of the 1960s.

Now that’s a song! An unstoppable hit from the majestic sitar intro and La – Da da da da da da vocalising even before the brilliant straight from the shoulder lyric skewers the phoniness and pretensions of the movers and shakers of the 60s generation (not to mention every generation before and since!).

There is a characteristic magnificent sinewy strength to Joe’s baritone vocal and his guitar/sitar playing. In Games People Play he has turned a great song through superb performance and production into a great record. ‘Games’ features a wonderfully integrated vocal, organ, strings and brass arrangement which swells the sound to anthemic proportions.

Joe South always sang like a man who knew what he was talking about and who wasn’t afraid to tell uncomfortable truths about himself and the world around him.

‘Talking about you and me and the games people play ….’

‘Oh we make one another cry, Break a heart then we say goodbye .. ‘

‘People walking up to you, Singing glory hallelujah, And they try to sock it to you in the name of the Lord…’

‘They’re gonna teach you how to meditate, Read your horoscope, cheat your fate… ‘

‘Look around tell me what you see, God grant me the serenity to remember who I am …’

‘Turned your back on humanity and you don’t give a da, da, da da , da …… ‘

It seems to me that, ‘Games People Play’ is as accurate a summary of life in 2016 as it was in 1969 and as it will be in 2069. Cue it up again!

Joe South was an Atlanta Georgia native. Once he discovered the guitar he became an obsessive practicing round the clock and even setting up his own mini radio station to broadcast his playing.

Through DJ Bill Lowery he got involved with Atlanta’s NRC Record Label and formed musical bonds with Jerry Reed, Pete Drake, Ray Stevens and Billy Joe Royal. In 1958 he co-wrote the novelty hit, ‘The Purple People Eater meets Witch Doctor’ with the larger than life Big Bopper of, ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame (who was to die in the plane crash that took Buddy Holly)

His prowess as a guitarist won him work in Atlanta, Nashville and Muscle Shoals. In 1962 he played the Buddy Holly style guitar on Tommy Roe’s Billboard Number One, ‘Sheila’.

In the same era he had his first mainstream hit with the charming, ‘Untie Me’ by the black vocal group The Tams – a favourite on the Myrtle Beach summer sand scene.

Joe South grew up in a strictly segregated South. But like Tony Joe White, Steve Cropper, Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton his musical taste was never segregated and the influence of Gospel, R&B and Soul music as well as Country is palpable in every note he sang and played.

Joe’s versatility is clear when you consider that in 1965 he was called in by Simon and Garfunkel’s producer Tom Wilson to add electric guitar punch to the ‘Sounds of Silence’ Album in the same year that he was writing and producing a country soul classic for his long time friend Billy Joe Royal with, ‘Down In The Boondocks’ a tale of the travails of love attempting to cross the tracks from the picket fenced lawns to tar papered shack poor side of town.

Apparently Joe had asked Billy to record Boondocks as a demo hoping to pitch it to Gene Pitney. However, the distinctive echoey sound and Billy’s urgent performance was recognised by a savvy someone at CBS and lo! A top 10 hit resulted.

Billy would go on to record several other Joe South songs including the lilting ballad, ‘I Knew You When’ and the irresistible, ‘Hush’ perhaps better known from the hit Deep Purple version.

In late November 1965 and through to March ’66 Joe became involved in the epochal sessions for Bob Dylan’s landmark masterpiece album, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ playing both guitar and bass. He plays bass on the sublime, Visions of Johanna’ which must be one of the defining Himalayan triumphs of Dylan’s career and of the whole rock era.

Joe was as comfortable recording with members of The Band and Nashville luminaries on Blonde on Blonde as he would later be when he played with signature brilliance along with Muscle Shoals finest on Aretha Franklin’s 1967 smash hit, ‘Chain of Fools’

That’s Joe with the E string tuned to a low C providing the spooky, something serious is gonna go down here, intro that sets things up for the majestic Aretha to slay us all. Throughout the song Joe meshes perfectly with Jimmy Johnson, Tommy Cogbill, Spooner Oldham and Roger Hawkins as they keep everything between simmer and boil following Aretha.

When it came to his own recording career Joe would never have as big a hit as, ‘Games’ but he would write and record biting songs that continue to hit home with their humanity, their moral force and their musical power.

My particular favourite is the you just can’t deny it’s true, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ which became a high point of Elvis Presley’s 1970 stage shows (and there isn’t a songwriter in the world who wouldn’t have whooped at top volume when learning that Elvis had done one of their songs!).

Do look up the King’s version but I have to feature Joe’s testifying version here today. What fantastic guitar too!

 

We all know, as surefire sinners, that we should keep the stone in our pocket rather than casting it at our neighbour for their sins. Or as Joe puts it with pithy force:

‘Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes,
Hey before you abuse, criticise and accuse,
Walk a mile in my shoes’

There’s something very cheering about the way Joe South songs come at you so directly presenting a clear eyed, dare to say this isn’t so, critique of our personal and communal hypocrisies and failings .

And, in a way that never has the whiff of pious cant about them. Rather, these are songs filled with life and hard won wisdom which you just have to sing along to. It’s a rare gift to write songs filled with righteous anger that aren’t deadening rants that win allegiance only from those with closed minds and hard hearts.

In October 1970 a song that Joe had originally given to Billy Joe Royal and recorded himself in a lovely ruminative version became a world wide hit for Lynn Anderson.

‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’ is the kind of country record that sells to people who say they can’t stand country music.

The kind of pop song that is bought, listened to and remembered by eight year olds and eighty year olds. The kind of record that wins nodding heads of agreement from all us, bruised in Love, when it says, ‘You know what I’m talking about’. So smile for a while and let’s be jolly … Come along and share the good times while we can. While we can.

Joe South’s life and career took a marked turn for the worse in 1971 with the death by suicide of his beloved brother Tommy. That and the pressure he felt trying to match the success of, ‘Games People Play’ seems to have sent him into a spiralling depression (fuelled in part by drugs) which meant that his enormous gifts were in abeyance for many years.

Though he did make later albums which have their moments he was largely content, once he had ceased as he put it, ‘Kicking myself about’ to live a quiet life in his Georgia home. He died there in September 2012 having left a deep and indelible mark on the music of his era.

I’m going to leave you with an elegy he may have unknowingly written for himself. ‘Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home’ must surely have been played by the angels, singing him home to his final rest, as Joe rode in that last limousine. Hank Williams will surely want to swop Whippoorwill references.

Joe South’s songs were built to last and last they surely will.

Barbara Lewis: The queen of sultry early 60s R&B – Baby I’m Yours!

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1963 was a vintage year for chart topping R&B singles.

Motown’s imperious domination of the chart was evidenced by Mary Wells’ lovely, ‘Two Lovers’ written by the great Smokey Robinson who hit the summit himself accompanied by The Miracles with the hypnotic, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ which the admiring Beatles covered on their second album.

An absurdly precocious and energetic, ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ electrified everyone who heard him with, ‘Fingertips (Part 2) while Martha & The Vandellas filled dance floors all over the globe and sent thermometers soaring with the epochal, ‘Heatwave’.

The singular genius of Curtis Mayfield was represented by The Impressions prayerful, ‘It’s Alright’ and the nonpareil vocals of Sam Cooke took the witty, ‘Another Saturday Night’ to the chart summit.

Ruby & The Romantics and The Chiffons kept the Girl Group flag flying with the unforgettable, ‘Our Day Will Come’ and, ‘He’s So Fine’. Jackie Wilson worked us all up into a glorious sweat with, ‘Baby Work Out’ as Garnett Mimms with The Enchanters left us all elated and exhausted with the classic deep soul anguish of, ‘Cry Baby’.

I could (and probably will) write about all the wonderful songs above. But, the R&B chart topper from 1963 that won and retains first place in my heart is, ‘Hello Stranger’ – a sultry, slinky, uptown soul masterpiece written and performed with subtle flair by Barbara Lewis, a teenager from Salem, Michigan.

Now, don’t you feel blessed and enchanted!

Barbara recorded, ‘Hello Stranger’ at the famed Chess Studio in Chicago in January 1963. She had earlier been talent spotted by Ollie McLaughlin a music business mover and shaker who managed to combine being a DJ with Ann Arbour’s WHRV with managing Del Shannon and producing records. Olllie insightfully recognised that it was rare to find a poised young woman who could write and sing in such a distinctive fashion.

A sympathetic team of seasoned professionals supported Barbara on this classic recording. John Young coaxed a warm embracing sound from the Hammond Organ. Riley Hampton skilfully arranged Barbara’s romantic melody to ensure listeners and dancers would be spellbound throughout every second of its duration.

Filling out the sound with characteristic excellence were one of the greatest and most durable of all vocal groups – The Dells. The Rhythm Section maintained a swooning tempo underneath Barbara’s astounding mature – you won’t be able to resist falling desperately in love with me right now vocal.

Listen to the effortless precision of her diction and the way she seems to almost hugging the song to herself. Singing it like a thrilled lover devoutly recalling the intoxicating pleasures of young love. I think the word Luscious can be properly invoked here!

The sharp eared Atlantic Records team knew a hit when they heard one and issued, ‘Hello Stranger’ as Atlantic 2184 which became a No 3 pop hit as well as an R&B No 1. To which signal achievements we can now add the accolade of a hallowed place as:

A 14 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Over the next six years at Atlantic Barbara issues a further 16 singles every one of which showcased some aspect of her gloriously distinctive artistic persona. Through the Atlantic connection she also got to collaborate with some of the finest record industry talents of the era such as Bert Berns, Jerry Wexler, Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Van McCoy.

While I could hymn every one of the Atlantic singles I have chosen three to feature on The Jukebox to persuade you (if any is needed after hearing, ‘Hello Stranger’) of how essential her recordings are for anyone seeking the very best of the frequently neglected gems of the early sixties.

Let’s turn first to a record that will have even the flintiest hearted curmudgeon swaying misty-eyed in a romantic reverie. From 1965 the Van McCoy penned classic, ‘Baby I’m Yours’.

‘Baby’ was recorded in New York and benefited from the pooled talents of Bert Berns, Van McCoy(something of a secret hero of 60s pop), the backing vocals of The Sweet Inspirations featuring Cissie Houston and a well schooled string section.

The silky come hither charm of Barbara’s vocal here has rarely been matched and will surely be so until the stars fall from the sky and the poets run out of rhyme. In other words until the end of time.

Next a change of tempo with a song much beloved by my veteran friends of the, ‘Northern Soul’ scene. I can just imagine the delighted reaction of those tireless fanatical dancers as the first strains of Sharon McMahon’s, ‘Someday Were Gonna Love Again’ rang out at the Wigan Casino or Manchester’s, ‘Twisted Wheel’ club.

While I would have tried in my lumbering way to respond to the call of the beat I would undoubtedly have been lost in admirations as Barbara and the driving musicians behind the record inspired the serious dancers to ever greater heights of virtuosity as they glided and pirouetted across the dance floor.

Nights spent dancing to such music are stored forever as treasure in the soul.

I’m going to conclude with another example of Barbara’s ability to cradle a song in her imagination before slaying us all with the irresistible slow burning power of her recorded vocal.

The way she sings, ‘Come on, come on, make me your baby’ here could make even a dead man rise like Lazarus!

I can’t imagine there’s ever been a man alive who wouldn’t feel ten foot taller if Barbara sang, ‘Make Me Your Baby’ to him. I know it works for me!

Barbara Lewis essentially retired from the music business after a last hurrah with Stax records as the sixties concluded (look for the marvellous side ‘The Stars’).

But, in her 60s heyday she recorded a series of records, highly potent quiet storms, that will resonate forever in the hearts of those lucky enough to have heard them.

I find Barbara Lewis’ records to be endlessly alluring and captivating. I have remained in thrall to their spell since my teenage years.

So, here’s a tip – if I’m ever forty floors up, stranded on the ledge and threatening to jump, its Barbara’s voice that I want talking me down!

Note:

I whole heartedly recommend, ‘The Complete Atlantic Singles’ on Real Gone Music and the more selective, ‘Hello Stranger’ on Rhino Records.

Sugar Bee: A Saturday Night Cajun Drunkard’s Dream (Cleveland Crochet)

‘Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about my money, don’t try to save
My Heart says go, go! Have a time … ‘.

(Little Richard – ‘Rip It Up’ Bumps Blackwell/John Marascalso)

‘Saturday morning, oh Saturday morning All my tiredness has gone away
Got my money and my honey And I’m out on the town to play
Sunday morning, my head is bad
But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had’.

(Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’ Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino)

‘When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, Little Bessie, girl that I once knew ..’

(The Band – ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ Robbie Robertson)

As dawn broke one morning during Christmas holidays I found myself suddenly, startlingly awake with the refrain:

‘Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee,
Sugar bee – look what you done to me’

looping over and over in my head.

While there is nothing approaching the orderly majesty of the Dewey Decimal system about my filing system for songs and song lyrics I am pleased to report that before the refrain had looped ten times a light bulb in my mind had illuminated the name, ‘Cleveland Crochet & Hillbilly Ramblers’ and presented me with a picture of a neon yellow Goldband Records 45 that was securely stored in my collection of essential Cajun singles.

Fifteen minutes later the record was spinning on my old portable deck and the whole house, guests and all, was dancing at a Surrey Woods Fais do-do! (Cajun dance party).

Now it’s only fair that you should have the opportunity to cut a rug and set this classic looping in your head too (and once it’s in your head I have to tell you it’s there for life!) So without further ado:

Sugar Bee was, in 1961, the first slice of pure Cajun music to break into the Billboard top 100. So the whole nation had the chance to catch up with the Saturday night delights that the Lake Charles patrons of The Shamrock and Moulin Rouge had been dancing and carousing to for over a decade.

It’s hot and humid in Lake Charles and when you’ve spent all week breaking your back working construction or in the oil fields you sure as hell need to go out to spend your money on Saturday night somewhere you’re guaranteed to have a whirling fine, fine time drinking and dancing, drinking and dancing – with a side order of flirting and fighting until itstime to fall down or be carried home.

And if that’s what you’re looking for a Cajun dance hall with a Cajun band like Cleveland Crochet and The Hillbilly Ramblers can’t be beat!

Cleveland’s up there on the Bandstand setting that fiddle on fire while Shorty Leblanc is cutting through the layers of smoke and befuddlement with his wake the dead accordion licks.

cleveland crochet

Keeping that dancing rhythm always alive is Charlie Babineaux on guitar and gliding over the top on the Steel guitar and laying down the vocals we have Jesse ‘Jay’ Stutes. Allons -y!

Sometimes the songs are sung in Cajun French sometimes in Cajun English – either way the message of loves won and lost and of a proud people celebrating their uncelebrated culture comes through loud and clear.

As Sugar Bee plays you can practically feel the hardwood floor bouncing up and down as the couples foot stompingly circle the dance hall.

This is gloriously rough and rowdy music with the kick of over proof corn liquor. And, the more you have the more you want – don’t worry about Sunday’s hangover it’s going to be more than worth it for the times that you’ve had! Ah! Lets get it man.

Cleveland was a 1919 born native of Hathaway, Louisiana who found, like so many, that Lake Charles offered regular work and all the luridly promised temptations of the city in full measure.

He had formed the Ramblers by 1950 and began recording for Folk-Star and Leader for the local Cajun market. Hooking up with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in 1960, amplifying their sound and singing in English led to their great breakout hit (of course the record business being a cut-throat Business meant that Cleveland wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds of his hit!).

But, he had made an immortal record that would go on to become a Cajun anthem and there are riches in Heaven for that.

And, I hear you ask – is the B side any good?

Damn right it is! ‘Drunkard’s Dream’ is for that time of the night when you and your dance partner are really in step and in tune (and likely more than three floors drunk!).

Now, you’re floating over the floor and the lights are gleaming like jewels and you don’t know or care what time it is and what time, if ever, you will get home. All you really know is that you wish this dance would never end. And the words of the song waltz and waltz around your mind ;

‘J’ai arrive hier au soir (z)a La maison
J’ai cogne, j’ai crie, j’ai pas de reponse
J’ai connu, (z)au moment que t’etais pas la
Quel espoir, quel avenir mais moi j’peux avoir?’

Monday morning, Blue Monday, will, as it always maddeningly does, come around and you will have to sweat and strain through another week of loveless labour. Yet, just at the limit of your vision is always the promise of another Saturday night when the Sugar Bee will fly again and all the drunkard’s can dance and dream to their hearts content.

Notes:

The hard to find Cleveland Crochet compilation on Goldband is well worth the search. Individual Hillbilly Rambler tracks are scattered across many fine Cajun collections.

I recommend versions of Sugar Bee by Canned Heat, Wayne Toups, Jimmy C Newman (live on the excellent Marty Stuart TV show), Jo-El Sonnier, Dr Feelgood and The Interns and Gene Taylor.’

Ry Cooder, Elton John, Solomon Burke & Jim Reeves: ‘He’ll Have To Go’

Christmas Cracker 6

Oceans and oceans of emotion have flowed through the telephone wires buzzing above your head. Think of all the announcements.

I’ve passed my exams!

I’ll be home for Christmas!

We are going to get married!

It’s a Girl!

We did all we could but I’m sorry to tell you that …..

There was a time, centuries and centuries, when announcements like that came by letter or were delivered face to face. The invention of the telephone allowed direct personal communication at great distance bringing the disembodied voice right into your ear and mind.

And, humans being human the telephone has been used for every virtuous and nefarious purpose imaginable.

Right now someone is planning to call you with the aim of draining your bank account.

Right now someone is patiently listening to a tortured soul who thinks life isn’t worth living anymore and assuring them that there is at least one person who will answer when they call again.

Right now some poor sap is reeling as he learns that the party’s over; that love can lie, that the love still burning so bright for him is naught but cold, cold ashes for her. And, you know what? He still won’t believe it!

Slumped on his bar stool with the jukebox blaring he tries to clear the fog in his head to summon up all his persuasive powers for one last, ‘Don’t Go!’ plea.

Surely, if he can only find the right words, he can reignite those hot flames and they will be together again:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

Ah, Jim Reeves, Gentleman Jim, the Prince, the peerless Potentate of three in the morning melancholia! I’ve spent many a night drinking deep with that velvet voice.

Many a night his oracular tones have echoed and reechoed in my mind and heart as I battled to accept the unacceptable, searching to find reasons, answers, and eventually a way out.

Mostly Jim taught me that there was no easy way out – some things can’t be worked round. No, they have to be got through, endured.

And if you need a companion on your exhausting, perilous progress back to sanity and some vestige of normality you won’t find one better than Jim Reeves.

You wont be surprised at Jim’s popularity in the Americas and in Europe. But, you might be a little taken aback to learn of his immense popularity in Jamaica and that in India and Sri Lanka he is enormously admired and revered by many as a, ‘Gandharva’ an earth born singer in tune with the heavens.

Jim’s, ‘I’m speaking directly to you, just you, in all your pain’ confiding vocals cut through barriers of race and culture.

No one is immune from Jim crooning, ‘Should I hang up or will you tell him he’ll have to go’ or, ‘Do you want me answer yes or no’.

And, tell me you don’t how the terrible cost of choking out the words, ‘Darling I will understand’.

Jim took Jim and Audrey Allison’s song which had done nothing in its first recording by Billy Brown and gave it a magic that endures. A magic that has won millions of listeners (14 weeks a country No 1 in 1960) and inspired hundreds of singers to seek out that magic too.

Jim Reeves life was cut short by a plane crash in 1964 but there can be doubt that as long as hearts get broken and people seek solace in music that Jim’s voice will live on.

Any Jukebox that I’ve got anything to do with will always have a copy of Jim Reeves ‘He’ll Have To Go’ ready to play for the lost and the lonely when they need it.

So, as sole proprietor of The Immortal Jukebox I’m announcing that, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ has been awarded the position of A13 on The Immortal Jukebox.

As its the season of goodwill and a time for generosity I’m donning my Santa Claus suit and bringing you several other versions of the song for you to digest with your drink of choice.

First up a rapturous, let’s turn the lights down and sway together in the cantina live version by Jukebox favourite, Ry Cooder, accompanied by Flaco Jimenez, the king of Conjunto, Norteno and Tejana accordion.

I think you’ll want a premium Tequila here.

‘He’ll Have To Go’ is always thought of a Country Pop song. However as the regal Solomon Burke definitively demonstrates below it works every bit as well as Country Soul.

Solomon has power in reserve as he cruises through his version suggesting depths of emotion by subtle shifts in tempo, accent and volume.

Solomon never lets you down.

I think a fine Tennessee sippin’ Whiskey will do the job here.

To conclude a version by one of the great rock/pop stars of the modern era, Elton John. At heart Elton has always been a huge music fan – someone who genuinely loves songs and singers.

As he says here he started out as the unregarded boy in the corner of the pub playing the piano. Since then, of course, he’s written more than a few songs himself that we all know by heart.

That’s how you become a huge star selling tens of millions of records. In addition he has been a relentlessly hard working performer and you can hear the fruits of all those hours on stage in this solo performance from 1992.

You’ll have to uncork the Champagne for this one.

Finally perhaps we should all close our eyes and sing our own a cappella version – remembering the time we all wished we could have said:

‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the Jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go’

This post dedicated to George who’ll be listening in his rural retreat – no doubt with a fine bottle at hand.

Notes:

I listened to a lot of versions of, ‘He’ll Have To Go’ preparing this post. A lot.

One I would definitely have included if Youtube would have cooperated was that by Glasgow’s great son, Frankie Miller (please look it up).

Frankie’s version is deeply heartfelt. In his 70s and 80s pomp Frankie could out write and out sing almost any singer you can think of.

Peers like Rod Stewart and Alan Toussaint recognised his special qulaities. Principally his ability to wring every blood drop of emotion from a song while carrying his audience with him through his beautiful rhythmic assurance.

If you do one thing this holiday season seek out Frankie Miller’s CD, ‘Highlife’ and then work your way through his catalogue. You won’t regret it.

I recommend a peaty single malt from Islay as your accompaniment.

Other versions I think you might profitably seek out include those from: Bryan Ferry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Rivers, UB 40, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Billy Joe Royal, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Cash, Harry Dean Stanton, Jackie Edwards, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones.